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16th Feb 2022

Woman cured of HIV for first time ever in ‘scientifically important’ breakthrough

Kieran Galpin

Could cord blood be the answer?

Scientists appear to have cured a woman living with HIV in an enormous medical breakthrough, making her the third successful patient to be cured.

Using a new method of transplanting stem cells into a patient, American researchers believe they could cure a more racially diverse set of people than ever thought possible, according to reports from the New York Times.

The breakthrough was announced on Tuesday (February 15) and the new method involves using umbilical cord blood in lieu of the standard practice of stem cells. Stem cells are usually acquired through invasive bone marrow transplants – but as umbilical cord blood is more accessible on a larger scale, it doesn’t need to be as closely matched to the patient.


The mixed-race patient was treated with cord blood from a partial match. When using bone marrow, matches are usually based on a race and ethnicity similar to the patient as HLA markers are inherited.

The woman, who also has Leukaemia, also received a close relative’s blood to boost her immune system following the transplant.

University of California, San Francisco AIDS expert Dr Steven Deeks said that: “The fact that she’s mixed race, and that she’s a woman, that is really important scientifically and really important in terms of the community impact.”

The disease is said to develop differently depending on the patient’s sex. However Dr Deeks does not believe the new treatment will develop into mass use, instead suggesting: “These are stories of providing inspiration to the field and perhaps the road map.”

Two previously cured men, Timothy Ray Brown and Adam Castillejo, experienced intense side effects following the transplant. However after 17 days in the hospital, the unnamed female patient was able to leave.


She showed no signs of adverse reactions, nor did her body seemingly reject the donor cells. Cornell Medicine physician Dr JingMei Hsu believes the cocktail of cord blood and the blood of her relatives could have protected the woman from life-altering side effects.

The president-elect of the International AIDS Society, Dr Sharon Lewin, told The New York Times that “it was previously thought that graft versus host disease might be an important reason for an HIV cure in the prior cases” but that the new findings disprove that.

“Umbilical stem cells are attractive,” Dr Deeks said. “There’s something magical about these cells and something magical perhaps about the cord blood in general that provides an extra benefit.”